Offshore wind farms, such as the one planned off the Sussex County coast, will have to wait to gain federal approval because of a laborious effort to regulate the technology.
Bluewater Wind, bolstered by an endorsement from four state agencies last week, hopes to build as many as 200 wind turbines in the Atlantic. The company says its turbines will generate pollution-free electricity at a stable price.
At the direction of the state agencies, negotiations have begun between Bluewater and Delmarva Power for a long-term power purchase agreement. But even if they strike a deal, and the company wins state and local permits to build an offshore wind farm, Bluewater will have one time-consuming hurdle left.
All offshore wind farm projects are on hold as the Minerals Management Service, part of the Department of the Interior, creates rules to govern the technology, which is new to this continent but common in Europe.
The Energy Policy Act of 2005 put the service in charge of offshore energy projects in federal waters, which begin three miles from shore.
Bluewater is considering building its wind farm 7.2 miles off Bethany Beach, or 12.5 miles off Rehoboth Beach.
The act gave the service nine months to create rules governing alternative energy-related uses of the ocean. But the service is not expecting to finalize the rules until fall 2008, meaning Bluewater could not even apply until then.
“Because of the challenges we face with our electricity demand and global warming, we really think it’s the best time for wind to step up and fill the niche people see out there,” said Laurie Jodziewicz, communications and policy specialist for the American Wind Energy Association.
She said Bluewater wouldn’t even be able to put up a meteorological station for a yearlong test of how the wind blows in various sites until the rules are enacted.
“We vastly prefer sooner rather than later,” Jodziewicz said. Everyone recognized finishing the rules in nine months “was pretty ambitious. But three years is an awful long time.” She said the office has limited staff resources to put toward the effort.
Bluewater spokesman Jim Lanard said the company hopes to convince the federal government to allow it to set up the meteorological station before the rules are enacted. “We think there’s a legal basis,” he said.
Bluewater has set a goal to begin construction on land in 2010, and build the wind park on the ocean during the warm months of 2011 and 2012.
A federal review would be a “cradle-to-grave approach,” said Gary Strasburg, spokesman for the Minerals Management Service. It would include the impact on sea traffic, birds and fish, how long the turbines would be there, and what will happen when it is time to tear them down, Strasburg said. The review would also include public comment on each proposed project, he said.
First up for approval would be projects in Massachusetts and Long Island, whose applications to the federal government predated the 2005 act. Some federal reviews for those projects are occurring now, but they can’t be finalized until the rules are set.
Strasburg said he wasn’t aware the rule-making process was being held up by a lack of staff.
It’s taking so much time “probably just because it’s a new thing as far as specifically how it’s being done; making sure we have every “i” dotted, every “t” crossed; how to make sure the program is handled as best as it possibly can,” Strasburg said.
“Going into this area, alternative energy uses is an exciting thing and it’s something we need to look into more. The president himself said we need to look for alternative sources, and not be as dependent on gas and oil,” Strasburg added.
Lanard said he isn’t expecting any surprises in the rules that would harm a company’s ability to build a wind farm. “It’s more process, procedure and reporting. We’re comfortable with that, we expect it, and we’ll comply with it,” he said.
By Aaron Nathans
1 June 2007
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